Samui is visited mostly by holidaymakers wanting to "get away from it all", and its main appeal is its funky rural beach communities with white beaches and clear & warm seas, and it has a few exceptional ones to choose from. Ko Samui is hardly "away from it all" anymore, but rather a cool and bustling international island resort.
Chaweng Beach covers a large portion of the island's northeast coast, and is easily the most crowded and tourist saturated region on the island. The beach itself, while beautiful and clean often suffers from seasonal overcrowding as ever increasing numbers of visitors discover the island. Several hotels, ranging from budget resorts to luxury villas line up the shore. Restaurants are set right along the beachside, making Chaweng Beach seem to glow from within the sands.
Set back about 100 meters from the sand the one way beach road in Chaweng has developed into a bustling international tourist town packed with every kind of resort, restaurant, and bar (ranging from busy traditional family-run open air sea food and noodle Thai at Ninja, through exclusive Thai-Californian fusion food at Jeff Lord's Betelnut to Irish Pubs and American Fast Food places McDonald's and Starbucks), Fine art, tailors, and souvenir shops, markets and wild, rambunctious, or chilled out nightclubs.
It gets ultra busy on the beach road at night with a crazy and colorful mix of pedestrians, motorcycles, and 'Song Taos', or small truck-taxis carrying people up and down the village. Chaweng is a jumping place with people exploring the shops (which also stay open late) and dancing the night away. There is plenty of nightlife, and Soi Green Mango is ground zero for a raging club and bar scene that only begins to simmer down after two AM.
In the summer months the waters in Chaweng can occasionally have some wind swell & surf, so be prepared for strong rip tides or side shore currents. The waters are shallow, but inexperienced swimmers should either stay close to shore or swim with other people.
Also on the East coast is Lamai, just south of Chaweng and smaller, but Lamai's beaches are clean and occasionally less crowded than Chaweng. Lamai was the original destination for travelers to Samui, and compared to Chaweng the town is a bit more tawdry and low budget, but it has its own distinct charms.
Greater Lamai is actually a large and beautiful valley, and as one travels inland away from the beach village the landscape is striking. Lamai has some pretty outrageous 'social' bars in the middle of town, and the once a week all girl Muay Thai boxing matches always seem to draw an eclectic crowd. Lamai has a lovely old Wat(temple), and is also the location of two of the most endearing original spas on the island, one on the beach, a hipster paradise called 'The Spa', and the other called 'Tamarind Springs', which has long been the class act on the island.
In the center of the North coast of the island, Maenam offers spectacular views of Ko Phangan to the North, and the Ang Thong National Marine Park to the East. The waters are calm and clean, being protected from the North Easterly currents by Ko Phangan. Because the sans are golden rather than white Meanam is usually much less crowded than Lamai or Chaweng, and Maenam's restaurants and bars still retain much of the local Thai flavor as well as being more reasonably priced, or even inexpensive. Overall Maenam is quieter, more relaxed, with local Thai community still pretty much intact. Meanam is also home to the Santiburi Resort, still considered by many to be the premier hotel on the island. The major golf course on the island is also in Maenam.
Bophut is the beach/bay just to the east of Maenam. Its lifestyle is relaxed and more traditional than the larger communities, referring to itself as Fisherman's Village. Bhophut's laid back vibe is popular with the more chic sort of travelers, and has a number of pricey but very good French-owned cafes and restaurants.
Bang Rak, just two kilometers east of Bhophut, and part of Bhophut 'province' is also known by the name Big Buddha Beach, after the 19-metre gold tinted statue of the ancient spiritual master which overlooks the entire bay (Big Buddha). Bang Rak is quite close to the airport, and is one of the calmest beaches, though the huge sweep of its jade colored waters are often a bit murky. Bang Rak is the jump off point to sister island Ko Phan Ngan, and the ferry goes every day.One of the best restaurants here is Ocean 11 with their fantastic Italian/European and Seafood.
Choeng Mon is one of the smallest of Samui's tourist beaches, but lies in a secluded bay on the northeastern tip of the island, making it perfect for those who want peace and quiet. It doesn't have much of a town but there are a number of small restaurants and a couple of shops, in addition to some very luxurious (and expensive) hotels that surround the bay...and it is only five minutes north from the bright lights of Chaweng.Ao Tong Takian is a small cove north of Lamai beach. It's long been popular among stoners and hip tourists for its inviting white sand, and is also known as Silver Beach. Here you will find five resorts: La Mer Samui Resort, the Samui Yacht Club (with no yachts or sailors at all), Tong Ta Kian Villa, Silver beach, and Crystal Bay. This used to be a relatively unknown spot. There is great swimming here if the local fishing boats are not around. Be a careful if you are walking in the water, as Tong Takian has a lot of sharp rocks.
Nathon on the Southwestern coast is the island's main port and the beaches here lack the beauty or deep water found on the east coast of the island. The city of Nathon offers great shopping with some of the best prices to be found anywhere on the island, as well as some truly good local restaurants, including a fantastic place on a side street where you can get a low priced Chinese Duck lunch. The open-air food market is piled high with inexpensive and fresh local produce. Some of the shops in Nathon are really offbeat, selling umbrellas, computer parts, stationary, and cheese in a single shop. Banks and Travel agencies here make it happen for travelers, and the ferry to the mainland and point beyond departs from this port.
Lipa Noi is really the only useful swimming beach on the west coast, and its wide sweep of sand is the last quiet place on the island. Lipa Noi faces due west and looks directly into the stunning Thai sunsets. It won't last long, but this is the part of the island where you can still feel like you are free from the tourist circus. It's really romantic, and there is not much to do.
Tong Krut on the South West corner of the island is currently one of the quieter areas of Ko Samui and is being proposed as the site for the islands future mega-yacht harbor.Credit : http://en.wikipedia.org/
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